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VOL.28 :: NO.46 :: Nov. 12 - 18, 2005

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CRICKET

Dhoni: 'Very Very Sixy'

RAJU BHARATAN

PTI

Mahendra Singh Dhoni... 'High, Higher, Still Higher'.

SOME labels you invent stick. Like `The Palm-Tree Hitter' in the case of Polly Umrigar, `The Haryana Hurricane' vis-a-vis Kapil Dev. But what punchline do I now conjure to sum up the ultra-hard-hitting persona of Mahendra Singh Dhoni? `Very Very Sixy' sits pat on Dhoni's broad shoulders, doesn't it? Truth to tell, I never expected to view any Indian hitting the ball harder than Polly Umrigar. Maybe Virender Sehwag came through as a near-matching power-player. But it is Dhoni, M.S., who approximates, closest, to Polly in the punch he packs in each six he raises in a bucolic spirit of `High, Higher, Still Higher'.

The ideal six is supposed to be the one that travels low and straight to the screen. Here Sachin T is the power-performer nonpareil. But, then, viewers tune — more eyebrows-liftingly — with the six that is a reminder of the legend by which the C. K. Nayudu vault is supposed to have landed on Bombay's Rajabai Tower from inside the Brabourne Stadium! A more sober version of the Man of Ebony, in Oriental-idiom action, is that a CK six, once, punched a hole in the dial of the verandah-clock making up the CCI commentator's box at the Brabourne Stadium. Seated inside that legendary com-box with Vijay Merchant, I found the talk to be eternally about how Don Bradman never lifted a single shot in the multiple hundreds against his name. About how, keeping The Don for his model, Vijay Merchant studiedly eliminated the ferocious hook, forming such a telling part of his batting vocabulary. Reasoning that Merchant could not always keep down the ball in executing the hook. Thus came, into the lexicon of Indian cricket, `The Three Vs' — Vijay Merchant, Vijay Hazare and Vijay Manjrekar. Three who unfailingly played in the `V' and laid down the norm for Indian batsmen, as a class, to follow.

Until there arrived the Junior Nawab of Pataudi to break the mould. Tiger Pataudi brought, to his captaincy of India, a spirit of true adventure by which he loftily lifted the ball over the inner ring. Without any hint of power whatsoever — Tiger was all eye, wrist and foot as he suavely executed those semicircular sixes, his cap tilted at a rakish Nawabi angle. But the milk-guzzling Dhoni, he wields the willow like a whiplash, coming through as `The Generation Next Jharkhandazzler'. The bat in Dhoni's grip looks a toy — like with Andy Flintoff.

Let us, in this `Light from the East', envision how some super six-hitters, `on the Jaipur spot', must have assessed Mahendra Singh, as the man carved a `Dhoniche' all his own, while employing the bat as a sledgehammer to bring off those 10 sixes and 15 fours. During his wand-in-hand 183, Dhoni effortlessly brought back, to the game, all the eyeballs supposed to have been tele-lost to Indian Cricket. To be sure, it was a one-time supersonic knock, Dhoni's unbeaten 145-ball 183 — 60 of them coming in sixes, 60 in fours. As Dhoni sizzled, Greg Chappell's vision of turning this rotund dasher into the right-handed Adam Gilchrist of India looked like being visibly fulfilled. But with this rider that, like with Viru Sehwag, Dhoni would come good once in three innings.

Short pungent point — consistency is going to be the first casualty in Dhoni's batsmanship. If only because, again like Sehwag, Dhoni demonises himself from the word go — instinctually. The concerted international attempt, from hereon, is going to be to contain Dhoni before he explodes. In the bargain basement, Dhoni we should not rationally always expect to be the Big Deal. Yet Dhoni has emerged as a potential match-winner for India. In the same Peter Pan vein as Sehwag, in the same Buffalo Bill format as Kapil Dev. The competition between the two, Dhoni and Sehwag, promises to be eye-holding. All the more so as Sachin is back with all those special shots still ringing in the corridor of our memory. As Sachin lost clout, the media climbed on to the Viru Sehwagon. The Sehwagon Wheel verily made mind-boggling viewing. Until Dhoni arrived to upset all settled values in being a hit. Now the sky is the limit for the viewer picking up the arc described by a six.

Did you reflect upon the performers (present at the Jaipur-ODI ground) who had `done a Dhoni'? There was emcee-commentator Ravi Shastri, who had emulated the great Garry Sobers in striking 6 sixes off 6 Tilak Raj balls. Ravi, that time, brought off no fewer than 13 sixes during his razzle-dazzle 200 not-out knock, for Bombay vs Baroda, in January of 1985 at the Wankhede Stadium. Also on the Jaipur spot, now, was selector V. B. Chandrasekhar, whose October 1988 dash of 119 (for Tamil Nadu vs Rest of India) witnessed no fewer than 8 Chepauk sixes being raised in a single innings by the Srikkanth-That-Never-Was. Not to forget fellow selector Yashpal Sharma's 4 sixes (off 4 consecutive Viv Richards deliveries) as he scored 55 for North Zone vs the West Indies in October of 1983.

Yet Ravi, Chandru and Yash would all agree that Dhoni charted a sixy course his very own. Dhoni (at No. 3) struck while the Sourav iron was still hot. Sourav himself abides in the mind and heart as one of the all-time big ODI six-hitters put in the field by India. There was a left-handed arrogance to Sourav as he picked the right ball to banish for a six.

But even Sourav, now watching Dhoni stand and deliver, must have wondered if a fresh focus-grabbing challenger had not arrived to his own handpicked Sri Lanka opening substitute to Sachin — Viru Sehwag (100 off 69 balls vs New Zealand). The tragedy of Sourav is that he could but sit and watch as his drawing-room TV unfolded, ODI by ODI, the very men he had radically brought to the fore. Men like Viru Sehwag, Irfan Pathan, even Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Men now blazing the captaincy trail for Rahul.

If Sourav, in chagrined hindsight, is actually paying the price for having pushed Greg Chappell's case — when Rahul and Anil urged him to flip for Tom Moody as coach — that is the way the ball rolls in the game with the televisionary name. Overday-and-night, Dhoni is a rare celeb, his blade as broad as his frame. So enormously uplifting are the sixes Dhoni unwinds that this Jharkhand heavyweight is now, near unfailingly, viewed to uphold the pre-1910 cricket law by which the ball had to be hit right out of the ground (not just over the boundary) for the shot to count as a six. Without doubt, Dhoni now is a candidate for the big-gloves Test slot occupied by Dinesh Kaarthick. A Dinesh who, sadly, failed to seize all his Test-batting chances.

If and when Dhoni makes it to Test cricket, he might like to be reminded that Wally Hammond hit a record 10 sixes in his 336 for England vs New Zealand at Auckland in April 1933. How Dhoni proceeds to let his hair down by wallopingly sending up the Test ball, too, is a prospect viewers savour with interest.

While also pertinently remembering that Dhoni is going to be really cross-examined only when the ball is directed at his ample chest and rib-cage in the crossfire of Test cricket.

The litmus test is going to be Brett Lee targeting the `Very Very Sixy' tag accompanying the bouncer-resembling Dhoni to the wicket.



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